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Constant conflict with your ex over the kids? Maybe you need a parenting ref.

January 8, 2014

Statistically some 80% of separating parents settle their plans for the care of their children between themselves or with some support from mediators or lawyers. Of the remaining 20%, most of these will settle during a court process but before trial. Typically less than 5% of separating parents see their matter go to trial to achieve a final settlement. You would think by that point though, everything would be over and people would get on with living their lives. Not true.

There is a small percentage of parents, estimated at some 1% to 5% who even in the face of a settlement continue to have ongoing conflict regarding the care of their children. Somehow or other, these are the parents for whom something always arises to be of issue.

These are regarded as the highest of the high conflict parents and also statistically, it is not uncommon for one or both to have a personality disorder, anger issues and/or a substance/alcohol abuse issue. This is a parent who may be the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, cloaked so as to conceal their hidden nature. It is this small group of separated parents that tie up the vast majority of not only the Court’s time, but also time from many other community services including police, child protective services, counseling and medical services and domestic violence shelter services.

Enter the parenting ref. More formally known as a Parenting Coordinator, this is a person most often with a mental health background and a working knowledge of family law. The Parenting Coordinator plays a combination of three roles to help high conflict parents settle disputes and hopefully resolve other issues that give rise to ongoing problems. The roles include educator, mediator and arbitrator.

Playing out their three roles, the Parenting Coordinator is privately contracted by parents to hear and help settle disputes. To settle those disputes, the Parenting Coordinator plies their three roles.

At times education may serve to help the parents achieve a settlement based on a better understanding of the issues between them and impact upon the children. When this is insufficient, then the Parenting Coordinator may help the conflicted parents find some sort of middle ground through the process of mediation. However, when neither education nor mediation resolves the matters at hand, then by contractual agreement, the Parenting Coordinator is empowered by the parents to arbitrate and order a binding solution, as if in a Court of law. The contractual agreement requires the parents to be bound by the binding solution of the Parenting Coordinator.

Given the Parenting Coordinator by definition is working with persons prone to conflict that are unlikely to be satisfied with solutions not of their preference, the Parenting Coordinator can next become the target of scorn by a parent dissatisfied with the imposed solution. While parents may freely enter into a contractual agreement to purchase the service of the Parenting Coordinator, it doesn’t mean they will be pleased with the outcome and not turn on their very service provider. Thereafter the tactics seen used by one parent against the other can be very well directed towards the Parenting Coordinator. The dissatisfied parent may seek to undermine the professional credibility of the service provider to not only wreak revenge but to undo the binding solution.

Included among the strategies of an angry dissatisfied parent to discredit their service provider are postings on the Internet of a spurious and vexatious nature absolutely vilifying the service provider. In addition, the angry dissatisfied parent may also make complaints against the service provider through their licensing body, again with spurious and vexatious allegations of professional misconduct.

It is not uncommon for parents who seek to undermine the professional livelihood and credibility of their service provider to be highly articulate and at least reasonably educated. Ability to articulately present one’s views and issues can give an air of credibility to the complaints. However, unbeknownst to the reader of the parent’s complaints are the distortions of facts, the twists and concocted allegations and outright lies that are part and parcel of that parent’s psychological make-up. In other words, vehemently expressing oneself doesn’t mean that what one is expressing actually represents the truth. The sheep’s clothing hides the wolf.

Given the bind of confidentiality, this is also not a level playing field. The complaining parent is free to say whatever comes to mind, but leaves the Parenting Coordinator with no means of public defense. Worse still is when a parent with their vitriol can gain media attention and support for their position, given no opposing view can be provided in view of confidentiality provisions.

These things happen in this profession which begs the question as to why anyone would want to take on the job.

The only answer is that Parenting Coordinators care.

In particular, they care about what happens to children subject to ongoing parental animosity and conflict. It is well known in this profession that the most significant indicator of poor outcomes for children of separated parents is unremitting parental conflict. Not only is the Parenting Coordinator an unsung hero in the lives of children subject to ongoing parental conflict, but often the only line of defense tasked with bringing some sense of peace and stability to better assure a reasonable developmental outcome for children who deserve better.

Should you read or hear about the untoward actions of a Parenting Coordinator in the absence of a defense, think twice about taking it at face value. The issues attributed to the Parenting Coordinator may just be the projection of issues originating with the complainant. A complainant’s statement doesn’t equal a truth.

Our reward? A greater likelihood that the children whose lives our foremost in our minds, actually survive their childhood and thrive in adulthood.

Do we get paid for this? Absolutely. Who doesn’t get paid for their work.

Is it worth it? For the kids’ sake, I hope so.

If you are a separated parent subject to ongoing conflict over the care of your children, consider a Parenting Coordinator. This may be the only person capable of mitigating and/or protecting the child from the turmoil befalling from a parent. We dare to enter the breach.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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One Comment
  1. Hi there. Interesting article.

    Just wanted to say one thing, it is unfair to say ‘high conflict parents’ and talk about parenting conflict as if it is always something that is done by ‘both’ parents. I have heard the statistics you quoted at the beginning of the post about how a high percentage of those parents who end up in court and have a judge make the final decision is when one or both parents have a personality disorder or mental disorder.

    The key point is that it is one or both. If it is only one – you can bet that it is the one with the mental disorder that causes the conflict and the other parent is doing their best to avoid it. I am in that situation. I have been dragged back to court by my ex on a number of occasions and treated with contempt. I could go on.

    There are many of us here on the WordPress Community who are fighting daily with personality disordered exes. It is hard for many of us to go to court and to be seen as one of a pair of ‘high conflict parents’ when it is not our fault at all. We all try to learn to manage the conflict and lessen it for the sake of our children.

    The problem is that many personality disordered people can present a charming, believable mask to the world, the judge, the GALs in court – and we aren’t believed.

    So please, when you talk about high conflict parenting please emphasise it may only be one. And I suspect that those that complain about parent coordinators the loudest and most often are those mentally disordered high conflict parents.


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